Good for God? Religious motivation reduces perceived responsibility for and morality of good deeds

J Exp Psychol Gen. 2014 Aug;143(4):1616-26. doi: 10.1037/a0036678. Epub 2014 Apr 28.


Many people view religion as a crucial source of morality. However, 6 experiments (total N = 1,078) revealed that good deeds are perceived as less moral if they are performed for religious reasons. Religiously motivated acts were seen as less moral than the exact same acts performed for other reasons (Experiments 1-2 and 6). Religious motivations also reduced attributions of intention and responsibility (Experiments 3-6), an effect that fully mediated the effect of religious motivations on perceived morality (Experiment 6). The effects were not explained by different perceptions of motivation orientation (i.e., intrinsic vs. extrinsic) across conditions (Experiment 4) and also were evident when religious upbringing led to an intuitive moral response (Experiment 5). Effects generalized across religious and nonreligious participants. When viewing a religiously motivated good deed, people infer that actually helping others is, in part, a side effect of other motivations rather than an end in itself. Thus, religiously motivated actors are seen as less responsible than secular actors for their good deeds, and their helping behavior is viewed as less moral than identical good deeds performed for either unclear or secular motivations.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Morals*
  • Motivation*
  • Perception
  • Religion*
  • Social Behavior*
  • Young Adult